Monday, May 28, 2012

All at once

I can't become a student, that's just vile so it's Sunday night and I'm showing Aaron the bars downtown: I want him to know there's more to being queer in Providence than College Hell. We’ve decided to visit all the bars except GenX where everyone always goes, and I don't think we need to go to Gerardo's but Aaron kind of wants to, and definitely not Mirabar because everyone knows they’re racist.

We decide to start with the ones I haven't been to, so we park outside the dyke bar, it’s kind of close to Gerardo’s and Aaron’s worried he's going to get carded but no one ever cards in Providence, I mean I guess they card at GenX which is kind of funny because that's the only bar where students go or maybe that's why they card? Or because it's new, and they don't want to get shut down, or they haven't figured out the right people to pay off or whatever, but anyway we walk into the dyke bar which is decorated like someone's big porch in the country or maybe your grandmother’s patio, I'm not sure, the bartender who has a flat top looks at us like we’re going to steal something: May I help you. Gentlemen?

I'm kind of startled because everyone I used to hang out with in San Francisco was a dyke but it's different here, I hand the bartender my ID and Aaron hands her his which is fake but it's from New York and no one at the gay bars in Providence knows what a New York ID is supposed to look like so then the bartender grunts and says what do you want? I say we’re going to look for our friends, and start to walk towards the back –where the paneling, maybe this bar is cowboy themed? It's like everyone in the bar turns to follow us with their eyes as we walk back, mostly chunky women with perms and bad dye jobs or military hair and then a few youngish super-preppy types with matching Polo shirts – one has mauve with a pale green collar and the other one has the reverse, I swear it's like they’re parodying some college student book from the ‘50s but what the hell college do they go to and look, there's a big dance floor in the back, I didn't expect that, disco ball twirling in the mirrors with no one around but guess what, we don't find our friends I mean we don't have any friends here so we’re heading out the way we came, the bartender looks more satisfied now and I give a big fake exaggerated smile, wave goodbye.

Aaron says what was that about – I don't know, I guess they don't like fags – and then we decide to go to the leather bar because I haven't been there either I mean I went once and stood outside but I got that scared feeling and couldn't go in although of course I don't tell Aaron that. I just act like it's no big deal and when we get inside I realize it looks like the Detour with a fence in the middle and black walls, but it's bigger, even a dance floor in the front but there's no one there. Just one drunk guy at the bar and there isn't even any music on but at least the bartender is friendly, some big queen with curly bleached hair and a bleached mustache and leather vest: what brings you boys out on a night like this? Oh, I say, well we've never been here so we thought we would check it out – it's a nice place, what’s a good time to come when there are more people? He says Saturday nights it's packed – okay, thanks a lot.

Aaron and I leave and I say that kind of reminds me of the Detour in San Francisco, I wonder if it's cruisy? I just need some hot slutty fags in my life, I feel like sexual expression is something I left behind and where will I find it again? Like that guy I met on Tool-Net the other night, and first thing he said when I walked in the door was: you have to get rid of that hair. Why did I have sex with him? Or, that guy in a truck who I followed from River Drive out to some scary motel and he kept telling me this was his first time but I was really hot, I really knew how to treat a guy. Should we just walk, I ask Aaron – the other bars are kind of close. Turns out we walk right by Mirabar and there’s a huge line outside, gross. Aaron says are you sure you don't want to go? No, I say – we can’t go there.

Anyway, Aaron and I are walking down the street and it must be some holiday for drunk jocks or something. Aaron says they must go to Johnston and Wales, but do jocks really go to cooking school? Aaron says it’s business too, but these guys seem rougher, maybe they’re from URI? Someone points over at us: Hey, he says. Hey! Hey! Is that a man, or woman? And his friends laugh.

I point out AS220 where ‘Stravaganza took place – that's when I found out that people actually moved to Providence to be queer, I mean people from Connecticut and even Massachusetts, which just seemed so strange because Boston is less than an hour away, and Providence isn't even a real city. Should we go to Champs? Aaron says sure, so then we’re inside and it's like 1985 all over again, they’re playing “Hungry Like the Wolf” while three tanning salon muscleboys in leopard-print thongs gyrate on-stage and a gaggle of giggling queens in khakis and white button-down shirts throws dollar bills. One of the queens is looking me up and down, I guess because of my pink hair and thigh-highs with those clips that look like garters and she doesn't know what to do about it. A waiter comes over and asks us if we want anything, I'm not drinking because I'm driving and Aaron gets a screwdriver. He actually seems more comfortable than I thought -- I never know what to do at strip clubs, I start worrying that it really isn't consensual, which doesn't make sense because I was a hooker in San Francisco, right?

Is he even old enough to be here, one of the queens points at Aaron, and Aaron smiles. When he's done with his drink, I say do you want to go? I don't want the strippers to come over to us: it's okay if I'm the one turning the trick, but I don't want to be the trick.

Faggot, someone yells when we get out of the bar, like there’s anyone else at a gay strip club. Someone throws a bottle and it hits the ground but somehow doesn't smash. I try not to look over, why is everyone so rowdy tonight? Luckily the Galaxy is practically next door, we walk inside and I can't believe how packed it is, dark too and then I realize oh, it's drag night, yes, I've never made it before because usually on Sundays I go dancing at Babyhead where the crowd is straighter than hell but the music is amazing, or amazing for Providence anyway, but we get inside and there's this black queen with eyebrows shaved but growing out and then drawn in crooked all the way at the top of her forehead and one of the rattiest wigs I've ever seen, like she had her hair permed and then straightened, or straightened and then permed, I mean her wig but anyway it's greasy as all hell and her eyes are kind of half made-up and half closed and she's wearing the tightest black lace bodysuit with everything hanging out – but this song, what is this song, I love this song – some blues number saying if I can't sell my ass I'm going to keep sitting on it—ain’t gonna give it away! This queen mouths the words like she wrote the song, and for a minute I actually think she's singing – flinging her hands and head at the audience while dragging a chair back and forth on the stage until at the end of the number she throws the chair to the side with a bang, or a clatter really since its a folding chair. Then she turns away from the audience and pulls up her dress and it almost looks like she's got nothing on underneath, jiggling her ass and suddenly there’s a disco ball right there and she’s shaking her ass like there's nothing left to worry about in the world and people are gasping and screaming and shrieking like they’re in pain, one queen even yells put that shit away and I say to Aaron: oh honey, this is so much better than the strip club, right? And he says: I could stay here for the rest of my life.

The music ends and right then this queen pulls down her dress or bodysuit-type thing like she's some kind of demure girl-next-door who got caught in the act, turns around for her bow and I rush up to put a five-dollar-bill is her rhinestone-encrusted bosom, she's actually prettier up close in the way that 60-year-old queens are pretty, and she grabs onto my wrist with one hand and holds the five-dollar-bill up to the audience with the other like she just won the lottery. She looks at me, and says: Ooh honey, will you be me hus-band, and the audience cackles.

I'll be your wife, I say, and someone yells yeah, that's right, uh huh, and when I get back to Aaron he says you're blushing! And: I love it here, this reminds me of New Haven. That's one of the things I liked about him right away – he grew up with rich parents in Guilford, Connecticut, but since he came out in high school he was going to all the support groups in town and he discovered the New Haven he wasn't supposed to know, he almost wanted to stay.

The next queen comes out: everything is glitter and it's all about her eyes, big silver-and-gold eyelashes with huge lips that match, gold on top and silver on the bottom, and she says this is for all my sisters and brothers who died of AIDS, and the audience is applauding and I'm already getting tears in my eyes. And then I realize she’s doing “All At Once,” the only Whitney Houston song I still like, memorized all the words in junior high. This Whitney is almost still the whole time, just her shiny mouth moving huge, eyes looking out at the audience with exaggerated or maybe not exaggerated sadness until she gets to the second round of the chorus and then she's shaking her whole body: “All at once, I'm drifting on a lonely sea, holding on to memories, and it hurts me more than you know, so much more than it shows” – and then her whole body starts shaking and at first I think it's part of the act but then she throws her head down and starts to sob. And they stop the music: the host comes onstage to touch her shoulder and then they’re hugging and the audience starts throwing dollar bills. And I realize I'm sobbing too, we’re all sobbing and I think this is the first time I've really felt everything since I came back to Providence.

Then I realize Aaron is looking at me in a different way and I don't know what that means exactly, just that he's never seen me cry, right, I mean I definitely don't cry in public – or ever, really, it's so hard to cry and the host is saying let's all take a break now, let's take a break, so I go to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face and when I get back there are three younger queens on stage, I mean it's hard to tell with all the makeup but their bodies are super-taut instead of sagging – two short muscular Latina girls in fuschia chiffon, carrying big bouquets of fake pink carnations, and a taller white girl in a wedding gown. Their makeup is flawless, and they’re actually good dancers and they even have a video projected on a sheet behind them where they’re doing the same dance number in different outfits but everything feels fake after what we just saw. And then I realize oh no, it's Crystal Waters – “back to the middle, round round again” and I lean over to Aaron and say let's go.

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